Ten years ago, head protection on the slopes generally didn’t extend beyond a woolly pom-pom or a novelty set of polar-fleece rabbit ears. Ski helmets were usually only seen on competitive skiers, or boarders who had a penchant for cliff-side descents.

Today, it is difficult to find a skier or boarder who doesn’t wear a helmet. Not surprising when you consider that skiers regularly exceed 40 kph – would you ride a motorcycle without one?

In the rocky New Zealand ski-scape protecting your head is neither pretention nor fashion slavery – it’s simply evidence of sanity.

So, assuming you aren’t insane, what do you look for in a snow helmet?

Helmet Construction

Most ski and snowboard helmets have a UV stabilised polycarbonate outer shell, an expanded, double-density polystyrene interior and a comfort lining.

Though the stylistic variations on this basic structural theme are seemingly endless, the core functions of a helmet remain constant – to protect the head from impact and, secondarily, to keep it warm.

Beginning the Process

Measure the circumference of your head (just above your eyebrows) in centimetres. This measurement will translate to the various manufacturers’ interpretations of Small, Medium, Large, X Large etc.

As everyone’s head is different, though, a ski helmet that is technically the right size for you may not fit you well at all. The answer? Try on every helmet in your price range.

Does the Helmet Fit?

Place the helmet squarely on the head, do the chin strap up firmly, put your goggles on and fix them in place (yes – always wear your goggles when trying on helmets) and pay attention to:

General comfort. The helmet should fit the head without undue pressure points. A little pressure that seems bearable in the shop will have you grinding your teeth by the end of a day on the slopes. The helmet should feel comfortable.

Snugness. A helmet that is too loose will shift on impact and provide insufficient protection. A good test is to rotate your head smartly left and right, backwards and forwards. If the skin on your forehead moves as you do this, the helmet is probably snug enough.

The front of the helmet. The front rim of the helmet should be low enough to provide forehead protection, but not so low that it interferes with your goggles. About two finger widths above your brows should be about right.

Goggle-fit. Ideally, there should be a small gap between the top of your goggles and the helmet’s front rim. Without this, ventilation to your goggles will be restricted and they will fog. At the very least, the helmet should not push your goggles down and your goggles should not push the front of your helmet up.

Chin strap. When done up firmly, the strap should be comfortable under your chin (no sharp seams etc.) and the front and rear straps (where it connects to the helmet) should form a “Y” just below and a little forward of your ears.

Back of the neck. A ski helmet should cover the back of your head fully and rest just above your neck without touching it. Pressure on the back of the neck becomes extremely uncomfortable after even a short time. Remember, too, that when skiing, your head will be tilted back more than when standing up straight in the shop. Assume the (skiing / boarding) position while trying the helmet on.

Ear coverage. You won’t be wearing a hat under your helmet, so the helmet has to keep all parts of your head warm. Check that your ears will be protected from the cold – but make sure you can still hear!

Helmet Features

Different helmets offer different features. Some of these are either gimmicky or just nice-to-haves. But some of them are worth the extra money.

Ventilation. On those sunny, blue-sky New Zealand days you need ventilation. The body loses a lot of its heat through the head and if it’s got no place to go your brain will be baking by lunchtime.

Adjustable ventilation. Even better. Closable vents allow you to adjust the flow of air according to the weather. Definitely not gimmicky.

Visors. With goggles you don’t have to have them, but they do help cut down the glare. If you’re going to go for a visor, make sure it’s big enough to actually provide some shade – a half inch lip probably won’t do you much good.

Adjustable fit systems. The inner lining of some snow helmets can be adjusted to offer a more precise fit and greater comfort.

Removable inner lining – allows you to wash away that greasy concoction of hair gel and sweat.

Audio and cell phone capability. Usually higher up the price scale, these helmets offer either wired or wireless connectivity to audio devices. Get one of these and watch the old-timers shake their heads.


Regardless of the features you choose, you want to be certain that your ski helmet will actually do what it’s supposed to do i.e. keep you out of the head trauma ward. Certification is not mandatory in many parts of the world, but reputable helmet manufacturers will voluntarily conform to certain standards.

Certifications you may see on your helmet, depending on where it was made, include: CEN 1077 (European), ASTM F2040 (USA/Worldwide), and the Snell Foundation’s stringent RS-98 and S-98 (USA).

A point to remember is that most snow helmets are “single-impact” helmets. This means that after whacking your head against a pylon your helmet will be compromised, will no longer offer full protection, and will need to be replaced.

Always Carry Protection

While helmets won’t magically prevent every ski or boarding injury, they do help protect that most precious of body parts, the head. To do this though, they must fit properly and the straps must be appropriately adjusted. And the helmet must be worn – all the time.

And for those of you who are still not convinced, ask yourself this question: What hurts most? Dropping a large rock on your head? Or dropping a large rock on your head while wearing a ski helmet?

See what they say in Canada.

Ski Helmets – Make Your Snow Sport Safer This Winter, 4.0 out of 5 based on 2 ratings

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